Chapter 19

 It was about an hour before sunset, that the Captain fell into company with one who had the Cincinnati eagle at his breast, and riding on together, put up at an inn.

The landlady and the servants, having never seen the badge before, were a good deal struck with the effigy of the eagle, and the ribbon at which it was pendant.--Interrogating Teague, who had come in company, and whom they took to be a common servant to both, or at least acquainted with the affairs of either, what was the meaning of that bird, or what bird it was, that the gentleman had at his breast?-- Teague knew as little about it as they did; but unwilling to be thought ignorant, took upon him to inform them. It is, said he, a goose; and de meaning is, dat de shentleman would ate a goose, if your anouers would get one roasted dis avening, for his anour to ate with de Captain, who is my master; for we have ate nothing all day long, and a roasted goose, with a shoulder of mutton, a pace of poark, and bafe, and cabbage, and de like, would be a very good slake for a fasting stomach. So, God save your shoul, dear honey, and make haste, and get a goose knocked down and put to de fire, to keep deir anours from starving, and to go to bed in a good humour, when they have drank a cup of ale or a mug of cider after the goose, and, bless your shoul, dear honey, let it be a good large fat goose, dat dere may be a rib or a wing left, dat a poor sarvant may have something to ate, at de same time. De shentleman was very right to hold out a token, like de sign of a tavern-kaper, wid a goose, or a pigeon, or a turkey, dat paple may know what he wants, and not be after De trouble of asking whether he would choose roast bafe and parates, or poark and parsnips, may it please your anour.

The landlady was a good deal distressed, having no goose about the house. But sending out to her neighbours, she made a shift to collect a couple of ducks, which Teague acknowledged would be a very good substitute. Supper being ordered, these were served up, with an apology from the landlady, that she had not been able to procure a goose; which she hoped the gentleman with the ribbon would excuse, as she was informed that a roasted goose was so much to his taste. A roasted goose to my taste! said the officer; what reason have you to think that a roasted goose is so much my choice? Surely madam you cannot mean wit, or to insinuate that I myself am a goose? For one animal preys not upon another; the maxim is, dog will not eat dog. I cannot therefore be a goose if I eat one.

Here the landlady explained her meaning, giving the information she had received from the servant. The Captain was greatly irritated, and would have called him in and chastised him instantly, had not the officer interfered; declaring that though it was an eagle not a goose, that he wore at his breast, yet he was not dissatisfied at the mistake, in as much as it had brought a couple of good ducks to the table, a fowl of which he was particularly fond.

This incident, in itself laughable, led the officer to relate the trouble he had had with a clergyman who had made a worse mistake than this, taking the eagle for a graven image, contrary to the injunction of the decalogue, which prohibits the making any such representation for the purpose of worship, as he alledged this to be. In answer to the clergyman, he had alledged the improbability that he who had been in the service so many years, at a distance from church, or church worship, except when a deistical chaplain came in the way, should think so much of religion, as to have any worship at all; much less to have become superstitious, and to wear an image at his bosom. The truth was, that he worshipped any god, true or false, very little; at least said few or no prayers, on such occasions; and was very far from being an idolator, and paying adoration to a gold or silver image; that this was nothing more than a hieroglyphic, being the effigies of the bald eagle, which is a native of America, and designates the cause for which her soldiery had fought; in the same manner as the eagle was the standard of the Roman legion: or the lion and the unicorn are the arms of England, or the thistle that of Scotland-- That the emblem of the American bald eagle had, on these principles, been chosen by the Cincinnati for their badge; of which society he was a member, and wore this device, not venerating it as the image of any bird or beast whatsoever.

The clergyman admitted that, in strictness, this symbol might not be a graven image, as the term would intend engraving on wood or metal, with the point of an instrument; and under this mental reservation, the wearer might save himself in saying that it was not a graven image: but it was at least a molten one, which comes within the meaning of the prohibition; being the representation of a fowl, and doubtless for the purpose of idolatry. For what else could be the use or meaning of it? It was not a common broche, used as a ligament to the shirt or coat; and it was unworthy of a man to suppose it could be worn merely for ornament; boys and petit-maitres delighting in these things, but no one else. It could not be any sort of time-piece, worn for the purpose of ascertaining distance. In fact, it was the portrait of a bird, the signal of some heathen deity; as the cock was sacred to Esculapius, the owl to Minerva, the peacock to Juno, and the dove to Venus. The eagle was sacred to Jupiter; and it was most probable, that it was in honour of this false god, that the image was worn.

It answered no end to reason with the ecclesiastic; for he grew but the more enraged, and insisted that it was an idol; showing from some texts of scripture, that in the last times idolaters were to spring up; and that this society, which the Cincinnati instituted, might be the Gog and Magog spoken of in the Apocalypse.

Said the Captain, it was natural enough for the clergyman to make this deduction; as in maintaining the cause of truth against Pagans, he is led to dwell much on the subject of idolatry. But for my part, the principal objection that lies with me, against your institution, is that which lies against all partial institutions, whatsoever; they cut men from the common mass, and alienate their affections from the whole, concentring their attachments to a particular point and interest. A circumstance of this kind is unfavourable to general philanthropy, giving a temporary and artificial credit to those who are of the body, amongst themselves; so that while some lend character, others borrow; and the individuals do not stand on the natural basis of their own merit. On this principle, I do not much approve of clubs and societies, unless in the case of some humane or charitable institution; or for the purpose of carrying on some beneficial work or improvement. I do not know that in your convening annually together, you have any object in view of this nature. I have not heard of any bridges you have built, or canals dug, or locks made for the purpose of facilitating navigation. I don't see of what use your institution is, unless it be, that your pronouncing an oration now and then, may be favourable to eloquence. But of this, I much doubt, as such abstract discourses usually degenerate into common-place. The great object of an oration is, to persuade the judgment, or affect the passions. In this case, the judgment is already persuaded, affections already gained. Having therefore, no object, what exertion can the mind make? --Be the cause what it may, certain it is that such compositions are seldom or ever found to be models of eloquence; more especially where the subject is of an extensive nature, as the revolution of America, and the struggles of its heroes. For here so wide a canvass is spread, that it is difficult to fill it up; and to take a particular part would seem to be a dereliction of the rest; for which dereliction no special reason could be given. You could not embrace all the characters who have risen or have fallen, or catch at particular names of the illustrious. Confining yourself, therefore, to general observations, you make no particular impression, and your orations become frigid to the hearers.

I have felt the truth of all this, said the Cincinnati gentleman, and the difficulty of composing an oration to satisfy my own wishes. For being appointed by the society to pronounce one at our next meeting, to which I am now on my way, I have been trying my hand at it, and find it as you say, very difficult; but have attributed this, not to the nature of the composition; but to the inferiority of my powers.

Not so, said the Captain; for in the hands of the greatest masters, this kind of composition labours. We do not find that even the oration of Isocrates, on the Lacedemonian war, which he was ten years in composing, has obtained such celebrity among the ancients as such great labour would bespeak. I have read the panegyric of Trajan, by Pliny, and find it but a cold composition. Plato’s oration in honour of those who had fallen in the battles of Marathon and Platea, is the best of this kind that antiquity can produce, and doubtless has great excellence in the simplicity of the expression. The touches are delicate and fine, and I do not know but we may place it among the most beautiful productions. It amuses with magic wildness of fancy, at the same time, restrained and guided by an exquisite judgment. But it is rather a poem than an harangue. For though the composition is in prose, yet it breathes the soul of a bard, and is inchanting by the flow of the words, and the elevation of the images. In modern times, the best thing we have of this nature, is the panegyric of Cromwell, supposed to be written by the great Milton, but not delivered. The ingenuity discovered in the mode of praising him, deserves every possible commendation. But the greater part of addresses that I have seen to great men now-a-days, or orations on public occasions, are turgid, or jejune, and little worth our notice.

After this, said the Cincinnati gentleman, I shall hesitate to show you the essay I have made towards a composition of this nature, as you appear to be so good a judge in this respect, and to know the deficiencies that may appear in any effort of this kind.

Nay, rather, said the Captain, you ought to be the more confident in so doing; for knowing the difficulty of the work, I shall be the more ready to excuse what comes short of perfection.

I shall then take the liberty, said the Cincinnati gentleman, to read you a few paragraphs. I shall be happy to hear them, said the Captain. The Cincinnati gentleman read as follows:

Compatriots--I wish to say those things that never have been said, and that never will be said again. Because, in this case, there will be the characteristics of novelty and singularity; the two great constituents of pleasure, in all intellectual entertainments. But what can I say new? Has not the whole world resounded with the justness of the cause in which we have been engaged? with the greatness of the attempt to withstand the power of Britain? And have not we ourselves, felt, seen, and known the great variety and changes of good or bad fortune? --What will it contribute to our immediate enjoyment to go over such scenes, unless the particular achievements of each officer can be enumerated, which decency forbids, and which indeed, cannot be done in the limits of one harangue? Leaving, therefore, ourselves, and these scenes, wholly out of the question, let us speak a little of those whom we left behind. But why need we speak; for all time will speak of them. The bards that shall live, will draw hence their choicest allusions. Consider them, indeed, as more happy than you, because they ascended from among the group of their companions, who were at that time instant witnesses of their achievements. The warriors who fall in battle, are the most glorious subjects of panegyric. Hector and Achilles form the most splendid part of the song of Homer, and in a great degree, because their bodies were interred in the presence of the two armies. Oh what a noble object! an army mourning a brave officer, and tears drawn even from the foe, struck with the sublime of his personal prowess and excellent knowledge of the military art. Much unlike, and far above those who languish with sickness on a bed in calm life, where relations standing round, wish the departure of the shade, and grasp at the property which he leaves behind. But the fame of a soldier none but himself can enjoy, there can be no heir or devisee of his property. It is his own, and it mounts with him. His blood only remains to bless the earth, from which flowers and roses spring, and clothe the woods and groves with enchantment and delight. For here the song of poesy is awakened, and at morn, and noon, and at still eve, their voices are heard who rehearse where the brave fell, and where they sleep. Sublime spirits! whether you inhabit the Pagan elysium or the christian heaven, you are happy, and listen to those immortal lyres which are strung to the deeds of heroes.--

So much for the exordium of the oration; it was all he had yet written. The evening passed away in hilarity; and the conversation turned again on the Cincinnati order; but particularly what may be called the arms of the institution, viz. Britannia represented as a fine woman, with her bosom bare, affrighted, and Cincinnatus, an accoutred knight, attacking her thus unarmed, as St. George did the dragon; the eagle, the bird of Jove, in the mean time, grasping the lightning in his claws, an image that would seem unnatural: Whereas the eagle might be represented in the clouds near Jove, where the lightning might be left to work its forked course, without the handling of the eagle; and in the other figure, Cincinnatus might raise his lance against the lion that supports the crown, not against the goddess of the island.

From these strictures which the Captain, without pretending to be a connoisseur, made, the transition was easy to a criticism on the motto of the badge; viz. Omnia reliquit, servare, rempublicam. The infinitive is here used instead of the gerund, with the preposition, ad servandam; as if it was intended to express his motion, or change of place, and not the object. But in fact, the motto does not at all express that in which the merit of Cincinnatus consisted. It was not in his leaving every thing to accept the commission of the Roman senate; but in resigning his commission, and the work done, going to his plough again. His praise would have been expressed better by the phrase of Victor ad aratrum redit. --In fact, it cannot apply well to our army; most of our officers not having much to leave when they accepted their commissions; but discovered a Cincinnati-like disposition, in returning after war to the employments of civil life. It is true, there would have been less tinsel, and more bullion, in the patriotism of retiring without a badge, as Cincinnatus did, but it is a thing that can do little harm, and it is pleasing to indulge a whim.

It may doubtless be said, that there were officers who left the plough, and fought, and returned to it, as well as those who are within the limitations of the institution, and entitled to a badge; that troops who had served a short enlistment, and militia persons, at least those who fought a little, were not wholly destitute of some claim to the badge of merit. Even those who lost property might be said to suffer, and advance pretensions to the reward of honour. Not that all of them should claim gold medals, or even silver; but some brass, some copper, pewter, a bit of tin, or pot-metal, just as the specific value of their services might entitle them. Perhaps while some wore it at the breast, others might be enjoined to wear it at the breeches pocket; and thus, as well by the point from which appendant, as by the bob itself, designate the proportion of their honour.

After this, some things were said on the subject of introducing honourary members; against which the Captain declared himself: That every thing ought to be preserved sui generis: as nature makes no honorary animals; but all are of the species, or take not the name; a bear is a real bear, a sheep is a sheep; and there is no commixture of name, where there is a difference of nature. But it did not appear to be of any great consequence, one way or the other; for the order would never come to any great head, as there was no opposition given which is necessary to keep alive attachment to what is arbitrary and founded not in utility but caprice. For as the fire dies without air, so whim without contradiction.

The officer was a man of liberality and good sense, and acknowledged the truth of this. But the evening being now far spent, candles were called for, and they went to bed.

POSTSCRIPT

 The preceding pages were written several years ago; during which time the Captain has continued his travels; and having been favoured with his journal, I have occasionally made extracts, and put them in the form of a continued history. Whether I shall publish any more, will depend on the reception of this.

I had first begun this work in verse, and have a volume by me, about two parts in three as large as Butler’s Hudibrass; from which composition, I have extracted this; thinking it might be more acceptable in prose. When I visit this city next, I may produce that in verse, and let the people take their choice.

It is a happiness to a man to be able to amuse himself with writing. For it is not every one that can play upon the violin, or the flute; and the fingers must be employed some way. I may be blamed in not choosing some subject worthier of my studies, and requiring a profound research. It might profit the world more; but it would amuse myself less. Omnis labor improbus; and toil is grievous. However, I have not been wholly inattentive to severer studies. I have several law tracts by me: for which I mean, in due time, to solicit a subscription. Nonum prematur annum, in every work of moment, ought to be observed.

There are some light things which I may in the mean time throw out; a comparison of Thucydides with Livy; thoughts on the Egyptian hieroglyphics, and on the Carthagenian commerce; a comparison of the French and English eloquence; a supplement to Buffon, containing a description of several genera of animals, not taken notice of by him; hints for the improvement of the microscope; on the criminal code of the Siamese, &c.

If the world will excuse these, I will give them my word for it, they shall be troubled little more; for except the examining my law tracts, I shall drop my pen, finding it, as I advance in life, more adviseable to apply myself to making money. What things have been written, and are now lying by me, may occasionally see light.

It is a good deal owing to my solitary residence in the western country, at a distance from books and literary conversation, that I have been led to write at all. It was necessary to fill up the interstices of business. If I should remain in that country, the same circumstance may lead me to write still. If I should remove to this city, or the seat of the federal government, I shall avoid the tedium by other means.

I wish the present book to sell for at least as much as will defray the expense of printing; for I have no inclination to lose by it. If I had a little time to stay in town, I could give it some celebrity by extracts, and remarks upon it; publishing for and against. For it is of no consequence how a book becomes famous, provided that it is famous.

The truth is, as I have said, I value this book for little but the stile. This I have formed on the model of Xenophon, and Swift’s Tale of a Tub, and Gulliver’s Travels. It is simple, natural, various, and forcible. I hope to see it made a school book; a kind of classic of the English language.

In looking over it, I find in the whole work but one word I would alter; it is near the beginning; where I say figure on the stage, instead of appear, or make a figure on the stage.* I carefully avoided the word unfounded instead of groundless, a word in vogue, among members of Congress especially. The word commit, is good, but being lately introduced, and too much hackneyed, I have not used it.

Language being the vestment of thought, it comes within the rules of other dress; so that as slovenliness, on the one hand, or foppery, on the other, is to be avoided in our attire; so also in our speech, and writing. Simplicity in the one and the other, is the greatest beauty.

We do not know at what time the Greek language began to be written as it was by Hesiod or Homer. But we find it to have continued with little or no change, from that time to the latest writers among the Byzantine historians, a period of more than three thousand years. The Roman language is considered as improving from the time of Ennius to the Augustine age. The language of the orators, poets, and historians of that time is standard. It was not so much in the use of particular words, as an affectation in thought, that Senaca is censured as corrupting the language of the Romans. But Tacitus, after him, writes in a pure style; and I have found but one conceit in expression, in his whole history; meaning to give the geography of a country of a certain tribe of the Germans; they are, says he, separated from the Sequani by mount Jura, from the----by the lake----, from the----by the river----, and from the Atabani by mutual fear. I do not find so much fault with the stile of Pliny, as the heaviness of his thoughts and expressions. However, the Latin stile of writing retained its propriety and other excellencies tolerably well, till the monks got possession of it, and brought it down to a jargon that is now exploded; and we recur to the pure originals of Horace, Virgil, Cicero, and Sallust.

The French language is corrupting fast; and not in the use of words, but in the affectation of surprise, in the structure of the sentence, or the turn of the expression. Mirabeau was free from this; but not the Abbe Raynal. To give an example: meaning to say, which he might have done in a simple manner, that about the time the English cast their eyes upon Goa, as a place where, &c. stating the advantages of such a port; he begins by telling you, that the English had occasion for such a port, which, &c. enumerating the advantages; and after this, with surprise comes upon you, and tells you, they wanted Goa. Enfin, says he; that is, in fine they wanted Goa.

The English language is undoubtedly written better in America than in England, especially since the time of that literary dunce, Samuel Johnson, who was totally destitute of taste for the vrai naturelle or simplicity of nature.

The language of the Scots writers is chaste, but the structure of the sentence of the academic Dr. Robertson, offends in this particular; his uniformity of period striking the ear with the same pulse, as the couplets of our rhyme in Dryden and Pope. Hume is superior to him in this respect, writing as naturally as a man speaks; his stile rising and falling with the subject, as the movements of the mind themselves.

I am quite out of patience with this Postscript. I have written it hastily, the Printer informing me that he had a few pages of the last sheet to fill, which must be left a blank unless I had something more; but as I am in a hurry about some small matters, and have no disposition to write, I believe I shall conclude, and let him leave the remainder blank, or put in a paragraph of his own if he chooses it.